Standard Chartered may lose NY license over Iran ties

Mon Aug 6, 2012 7:52pm EDT
 
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(Please be advised that paragraph 6 contains reference to language some readers may find offensive)

By Jonathan Stempel and Carrick Mollenkamp

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a rare move, New York's top bank regulator threatened to strip the state banking license of Standard Chartered Plc, saying it was a "rogue institution" that hid $250 billion in transactions tied to Iran, in violation of U.S. law.

The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) on Monday said the British bank "schemed" with the Iranian government and hid from law-enforcement officials some 60,000 secret transactions to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fees over nearly 10 years.

At the same time, it exposed the U.S. banking system to terrorists, drug traffickers and corrupt states, the department said.

The loss of a New York banking license would be a devastating blow for a foreign bank, effectively cutting off direct access to the U.S. bank market. Standard Chartered processes $190 billion every day for global clients, the New York bank regulator said.

In an unusual look inside a bank, the regulator described how Standard Chartered officials debated whether to continue Iranian dealings. In October 2006, the top official for business in the Americas, whom the regulator did not name, warned in a "panicked message" that the Iranian dealings could cause "catastrophic reputational damage" and "serious criminal liability."

A top executive in London shot back: "You f---ing Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we're not going to deal with Iranians." The reply showed "obvious contempt for U.S. banking regulations," the regulator said.

Standard Chartered is the third British bank to be ensnared in U.S. law-enforcement probes this summer. Barclays Plc agreed to pay $453 million to settle U.S. and UK probes that it rigged a global benchmark in June. A month later, a U.S. Senate panel issued a scathing report that criticized HSBC Holding Plc's efforts to police suspect transactions, including Mexican drug traffickers.   Continued...

 
A staff member walks inside a priority banking service area of a Standard Chartered bank in Hong Kong August 1, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip